One of the things you hear over and over is that your characters need to be likeable, and your readers should be able to identify with them. In order to create characters who are both realistic and likeable, they need to be flawed.
Characters who lack flaws are not likeable. Think about it: We’ve all had that relative, friend, classmate or coworker who was simply too perfect, and we didn’t respond to them with great affection. We feel things more akin to envy or annoyance in the presence of such a person, and sometimes we even start to look for them to fail just to prove to ourselves that they are they are as human as we are. In fiction, a reader will feel all of these emotions plus a sense of disbelief toward a too-perfect hero or heroine. Therefore, it’s important to create flaws in your characters that don’t go so far as to make your characters unpleasant but do make them sympathetic. Below are some ways you can do just that.
- Show the reason for the flaw. Perhaps your protagonist is stingy about handing out praise because he was raised by parents who were the same way. Maybe your main character won’t let people get close to her because she was badly hurt in a love affair when she was younger. If you can show that flaws are less failures of character and more about the types of scars life leaves on all of us, your readers will feel more empathy for the character.
- Make the flaw seem reasonable to the character. It’s often said that villains don’t think of themselves as villains; they imagine that they are doing the right thing. By the same token, your character may believe that always being brutally honest with people is the best way to keep the air clear or that she is not a know-it-all but is showing other people the error of their ways. By demonstrating how the flaw makes sense to the character, the character becomes more sympathetic even when the reasoning behind the flaw is misguided.
- Make the flaw both a strength and a weakness depending on the circumstances. Being quick-thinking can be a wonderful trait in some circumstances and professions, but impulsiveness and expecting instant results can also backfire in other situations. The same can be true of being plainspoken, trusting or any number of other traits. A classic example is Sherlock Holmes, a character whose famous smarts make him a whiz at solving crimes but not so great at dealing with people.
- Let your character make mistakes. Your character can be right most of time, but he or she has to do things wrong some of the time as well. This can be particularly useful if your character is someone in a position of influence who has to make decisions that influence a lot of people. Leaders are as flawed as anyone else and get things wrong, and when they do, the consequences are much greater.
- Trust your characters. Think about the flaws of your friends and loved ones; do you hate them because of those flaws? Of course you don’t. You may even think more fondly of them knowing the foibles and weaknesses in their characters. If you have created strong, realistic characters that your audience can identify with, their flaws will be part of what readers love about them.
Flaws for your characters may be something that you plan out ahead of time, but it’s even more likely that they will reveal themselves along the way as you get to know your characters better. Certain flaws just arise naturally out of certain personality types; your quiet, contemplative character may be painfully shy while your character who makes things happen may sometimes be callous to the feelings of others. Having a sympathetic eye for humanity in general can help you create flawed, realistic and loveable characters.
What are some techniques you have found useful in creating characters who are both likeable and flawed?
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